High Sugar Beverages and Processed Foods Increase Cancer Risk

Sugary drinks found to triple the risk of developing prostate cancer.

Individuals who consume sugary drinks are 3 times more likely to develop prostate cancer, while those who have a high intake of processed foods are at double the risk, a recent study found.

The study is based on the health records of 3100 volunteers tracked since the early 1970s. In 1991, researchers began tracking participants’ diet through a detailed food frequency questionnaire.

In a study that will be presented at the Experimental Biology 2016 meeting, participants’ food sources were categorized by glycemic index and glycemic load. The results were then analyzed in relation to their cancer rates.

Once cancer risk factors were taken into account, the results of the study showed that eating foods with a higher glycemic load was associated with an 88% higher risk of prostate cancer.

“Our study showed very strong associations between certain foods and cancer, in particular with prostate cancer,” said lead study author Nour Makarem, a PhD student at New York University. “There had not been very many studies on food sources and prostate cancer previously.”

The risk was most prominent in individuals who regularly consumed processed lunch foods or sugary drinks, which includes sugar-sweetened soft drinks and fruit juices.

“Americans consume almost half of their added sugars in beverages,” Makarem said. “Sugar-sweetened beverages have been shown to increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, and our study documents that they may also have a detrimental impact on cancer risk.”

Women with a higher level of overall carbohydrate intake as a portion of total calories saw a reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer. Additionally, there was a 67% lower breast cancer risk in individuals who consumed low-glycemic index foods, such as legumes, non-starchy vegetables, most fruits, and whole grains.

In the study, participants who had the greatest level of carbohydrate intake had a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. These results suggest that the type of carbohydrates is more important than the total amount.

“One of the most important findings here is that the type of carbohydrate-containing foods you consume can impact your cancer risk,” Makarem said. “It appears that healthy carbohydrate sources, such as legumes, tend to protect us from cancer, but non-healthy ones, such as fast foods and sugary beverages, seem to increase the risk of these cancers.”

When foods were broken up individually, legumes were associated with a 32% lower risk of all overweight- and obesity-related cancers, which include breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

Although the study results are promising, researchers note that there is only an association and not necessarily a cause-and-effect because of the study’s design. However, the findings are similar to those of prior studies that showed malignant cancer cells appear to feed on sugar and high refined carbohydrate diets, which could lead to adverse health effects.

“Current cancer prevention guidelines recommend avoiding sugary drinks and limiting the consumption of energy-dense foods, which tend to be high in refined carbohydrates,” Makarem said. “I think our findings add to the body of evidence behind this recommendation and strengthen the associations between these types of food and cancer.”